razzle dazzle

Zebo excited to team up with Saili in thrilling new Munster backline

The Ireland international looks like being part of an improved backs division at Munster next season.

MUNSTER’S STRENGTHS IN the recent past have often been focused around the forward pack and halfbacks, but an exciting backline is taking shape for next season.

Simon Zebo Zebo should be provided with better service next season. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

The signing of Francis Saili looks like being the key to bringing it all together; the Kiwi centre appears to be the figure Munster have been missing.

The loss of JJ Hanrahan certainly deprives Anthony Foley’s squad of a hugely talented back, but the province’s fans can nonetheless look forward to some exciting combinations out the back of the scrum.

Saili is an athlete of rare explosiveness, but also possesses fine distribution skills with his short and long passing games.

He’s a quality player and I’m excited to play alongside him,” wing Simon Zebo told Cork’s RedFM when asked about Saili. “He’s quite ambitious and he’s got a lot of skills. He seems like a powerful athlete, so I think he’ll add a lot to Munster.”

Conor Murray and Ian Keatley will surely remain the playmakers at 9 and 10, but how will Foley select outside that pair?

Kiwi Tyler Bleyendaal is back in training and should be fit and fresh for next season, so is he the future in the 12 shirt, with Saili outside him at 13? Or does Foley envisage pairing Saili and Keith Earls together in the centre?

Both of those combinations should excite the Munster faithful, but Zebo is keen to remind us of another centre who has been delivering for Foley this season.

“Denis Hurley’s been flying it this season when he’s gone in at 12 and we’ve seen how deadly he’s looked with Keith Earls and his offloading game, so it’s going to be interesting to see the combinations that are used,” says the Ireland international.

“Any player, one to 23, can go out and play well and it’s a credit to the strength in depth in the squad.”

Simon Zebo Munster trained in the sun at CIT yesterday. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Whatever the centre combination proves to be for Munster’s biggest games next season, the signing of Saili has suddenly added a new element of competition.

Back three players like Zebo, Andrew Conway, Felix Jones, Earls [is he's not used in the centre], Gerhard van den Heever and Ronan O’Mahony will be relishing playing off a midfielder like Saili, who also has a sharp offloading game.

Injuries are sure to strike for Munster, as always, but some welcome selection headaches lie ahead for Foley and his coaching staff in terms of the outside backs.

More immediately, Foley’s focus is on finishing his first season as the province’s head coach with silverware, namely the Guinness Pro12 trophy. A trip to Edinburgh on Saturday is the next step towards the target of securing a home semi-final.

Zebo points out that “the remainder of the season is all like cup finals for us,” though three closing fixtures against Treviso [H], Ulster [A] and the Dragons [H] provide scope for two further wins at the very least.

First things first, revenge over Edinburgh – who beat Munster at Thomond Park on the opening day of the season – would be sweet.

“We’re just going to go after them,” says Zebo. “You have to, they’ve got deadly finishers. We haven’t forgotten that they beat us over here in the league, so that’ll be foremost in our minds when we play them.”

How do you think Munster’s backline will shape up next season?

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‘Win our next 3 games and the first half of the season is forgotten’ — Gordon D’Arcy

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